Peter Wright finally ended his wait for a first major televised PDC title as he defeated Gerwyn Price 11-6 in the 2017 UK Open final.
By Chris Hammer
Snakebite had lost all his previous five televised finals, including the 2015 and 2016 UK Opens, to Michael van Gerwen but he capitalised on the world number one’s injury-forced absence across the weekend to get his hands on a prestigious trophy that his talents so-richly deserve.
Wright carried the burden of being the heavy tournament favourite at the Butlins Minehead Resort ever since Gary Anderson’s shock exit at the hands of Rileys Amateur Qualifier Paul Hogan in the third round on Friday night – but apart from a quarter-final scare against Raymond van Barneveld, he romped to glory as if he’d done so many times before.
Even in his thrilling 10-8 victory over Barney earlier on Sunday, the 46-year-old handled the increasing pressures superbly as he came from 8-7 down and posted an average of 110.88 – his second highest on TV behind the stunning 119.5 he managed in the Premier League in Exeter on Thursday night.
With the last of the established big names now out, this was now undoubtedly the biggest chance Wright has ever had during the peak years of his career – which have of course coincided with the rise of van Gerwen’s powers – and there was no way he’d buckle now.
The world number three overcame Daryl Gurney 11-5 in the semi-finals with a clinical display and then hardly gave Price a chance in the final.
The former rugby union player had only won his first ever televised semi-final earlier in the evening - just three years after turning professional - but his hopes of becoming the first Welshman to win a PDC crown looked highly unlikely as soon as Wright blasted out of the blocks.
Snakebite set the tone by opening up with a 110 finish and then checked out from 104 in the third leg to go 3-0 up.
Wright won five of next eight legs routinely enough to move into a commanding 8-3 lead and although he suffered a mini wobble that allowed Price to take three on the trot, a cool two-dart finish from 86 quickly stopped the rot.
The Scotsman then prompty broke the Price throw to get one hand on the trophy before getting the job done by checking out from 85 on the bullseye to spark emotional celebrations while he also gets his hands on the £70,000 top prize.
Wright, who finished the match with an average of 100.55 compared to the 97.78 of Price, said: "The fans have given me fantastic support, not just this year but also for the last two years.
"The game against Barney was one of the best games I've ever played against anybody. He kept coming back at me and it must have made great TV.
"Hats off to Gerwyn Price too because what he's done in darts so far is brilliant. He's a great guy and he's going to go a lot further.
"I don't want to put a downer on it, we had no Michael here and no Phil Taylor, but I still had the pressure of being favourite when you had Gary Anderson, Adrian Lewis and all the other fantastic players in the tournament.
"It was a lot of pressure and I was happy just to get to the final, three years on the trot in one of the hardest tournaments. To win it is brilliant."
Price, who picked up £35,000 having earlier beaten Ian White and Alan Norris, said: "It was my first TV final and it means a lot to me. I was a bit nervous up there, but Peter has played brilliantly all weekend and he was the deserved winner.
"It's given me a lot of confidence and it's good to have a good run. Sometimes on the stage I try too hard and try to put too much effort in and put too much pressure on myself.
"Against Justin (Pipe) I played really well and it stemmed from there. I think if I played half as well as I did against Justin and Paul Hogan in the final maybe I'd have had a better chance.
"There was one turning point where Peter took out 86 and I was on 83, and maybe at the break if I was 8-7 down it's a different game, but at 9-6 in first to 11 it's tough to claw back."
Wright also becomes the first-time major winner since 2012 when van Gerwen won the World Grand Prix in Dublin while he's the third Scotsman to win a PDC major behind Gary Anderson and Robert Thornton.
As well as the last two UK Open finals, Wright had also lost to van Gerwen in the climaxes of the 2014 World Championship and the 2015 and 2016 World Series of Darts Finals.
But having now finally shaken off the tag of being the best player without a major title, he will now turn his focus back to the Premier League with real confidence as he aims to dethrone van Gerwen as champion.
Peter Wright will face Gerwyn Price in the UK Open final tonight as both players eye their first major TV title.
Snakebite has been hot favourite to claim an elusive crown that his talents so richly-deserve after world number one Michael van Gerwen withdrew from the tournament through injury and Gary Anderson suffered a shock exit on Friday night - but he's since dealt with the expectations superbly.
Having produced a sublime display to beat Raymond van Barneveld in Sunday's quarter-finals, averaging 110.88, he then booked his place in the final by dispatching one of the three surprise semi-finalists in Daryl Gurney 11-5.
The 46-year-old averaged a steady 100.77 and hit eight 180s but it was his superior finishing, which included a checkout from 144, which ultimately proved the difference as Gurney missed 12 of his 17 attempts at doubles.
"Fair play to Peter," said Gurney. "What separates the men from the boys was his finishing, and week-in week-out playing on TV in the Premier League like he does showed there. That's where I need to improve and that's where the standard.
"It's a good weekend and any semi-final in the PDC shows that you're getting there. I'm glad to get to the semi-final, but you do want to get to the final and see how you get on.
"I know what I have to do to improve, and it's a matter of doing it and making sure I do it week-in week-out and try to beat top 16 players at every chance I can."
This will be Wright's sixth major televised final but unlike any of the previous five, he won't be facing van Gerwen.
The world number three was beaten by MVG in the final of the last two UK Opens while he also lost to the formiddable Dutchman in the climaxes of the 2014 World Championship and the 2015 and 2016 World Series of Darts Finals.
Now Wright starts as an extremely hot favourite against Price, who defeated Alan Norris 11-9 in his first TV semi-final.
Price averaged 95.97 and hit seven maximums during the win while the key moment came in the 19th leg when he checked out from 100 to edge 10-9 ahead before breaking the Norris throw.
Bo'ness-based Norris, who was also appearing in his first major semi-final, said: "I won the first Players Championship last weekend and got to the semis here so it's all looking good and it's been a great start to the year.
"You've got to work for your achievements, so I'll keep working at it but I'm going in the right direction."
Price's run to the final caps a remarkable journey since turning professional after packing in rugby just three years ago and should he upset the odds in tonight's final then he'll also become the first Welshman to win a major PDC crown.
Whoever triumphs will becomes the first-time major winner since 2012 when van Gerwen won the World Grand Prix in Dublin.
Peter Wright kept alive his hopes of a first major televised title as he beat Raymond van Barneveld 10-8 in a thrilling UK Open quarter-final.
The 2015 and 2016 runner-up went into this eagerly-anticipated clash as tournament favourite ahead of former two-time champion Barney but it looked like his wait for a maiden crown would have to go on after the Dutchman edged into an 8-7 lead.
But Wright, who averaged 110.88, landed 13 180s and hit a 158 checkout in a clash of the highest quality, won three legs in succession to reach his third televised semi-final in succession.
Snakebite's average was his second highest on TV - behind the stunning 119.5 he managed in the Premier League on Thursday night - so he's clearly in a hot streak of form at just the right time.
The 46-year-old said: "That was amazing. It's one of the games I've ever played, and Barney was hitting me back all the time and was with me shot after shot.
"I was enjoying it as well, even being scared and petrified on stage. I didn't doubt myself, but a couple of years ago I would have buckled.
"I'm a people-watcher and I watch all these great champions and take little bits from each of them and try to make my game better to try and make me into a champion."
Wright will now look to maintain the momentum this evening when he faces Daryl Gurney in the last four.
Should Snakebite get past the Northern Irishman, he will be competing in his sixth major televised final but unlike any of the previous five, he won't be facing Michael van Gerwen.
The injured world number one, who pulled out of this event on Friday morning due to a back problem, beat Wright in the final of the last two UK Opens and also got the better of him in the 2014 World Championship final and the climaxes of the 2015 and 2016 World Series of Darts Finals.
This is therefore his big chance for glory at the peak of his career - which has unfortunately for him coincided with the rise of van Gerwen's powers - but he'll be confident of justifying the favourites' tag he's had since Gary Anderson's shock exit to Paul Hogan on the opening night.
But in Gurney he faces one of the potential future stars of the game - although he'll be playing in only the second televised semi-final of his career after he edged a final-leg decider against Simon Whitlock.
The 30-year-old has previously reached the last four of the 2015 Players Championship Finals but he's a much improved player since then - having also got to the quarter-finals of the 2017 World Championship - and averaged 102.03 in an impressive performance as he bids for a first major title.
Whitlock led 2-0, took out 161 on his way to a 5-3 cushion and also moved 7-4 up with a neat two-dart 97 checkout, only for an 11-darter from Gurney - which featured scores of 177 and 168 - to fire his comeback.
Gurney claimed the next four legs to move into a 9-7 lead, and though Whitlock hit back to force a decider, the Northern Irish thrower landed his fifth 180 of the game before taking out 81 for a 12-darter to reach the semis.
"I threw my heart out after the second break but I had to throw everything at Simon just to get back in the game," said Gurney, who dedicated the win to his best friend Aaron McMenamin, who passed away earlier in 2017.
"Just to get back in the game was a good effort, but to go on and win it means a lot.
"Simon's a top player and he's never going to give up, but I wasn't going to give up either. I was 7-4 down and came back at one of the best players in the world."
Barney's exit to Wright means there is now a guaranteed maiden major title winner, with Gerwyn Price and Alan Norris both winning through to the semi-finals of televised PDC major for the first time in their respective careers.
Welsh ace Price, who only started playing professional darts in 2014, has previously reached the 2015 World Matchplay quarter-finals but this dramatic 10-9 win over Ian White saw him go one step further.
White hit back from 4-2 and 7-5 down to move 8-7 up with three successive legs before moving onto the brink of victory at 9-8 only for Price to force a decider in leg 18.
White landed a timely 180 - his sixth - to leave 20, but dramatically burst his score by hitting double 15, and Price stepped up to take out 160 for a stunning triumph.
"At 9-8 down I wanted to give myself a chance, win my leg and then anything can happen in the in the last leg decider," said Price.
"Thankfully he missed and I had one opportunity and took it. "For most of the game I was chasing Ian and he probably should have won, but I took the opportunity that arose."
The afternoon's first quarter-final also proved a dramatic affair, with Norris defeating Kim Huybrechts in another tense decider to win through to his first televised PDC semi-final.
Norris twice led by two legs, only to see the Belgian hit back from 8-6 down to lead 9-8 - but Huybrechts missed double 16 for the win as his rival forced a decider.
The 2014 BDO World Championship runner-up, who won his maiden PDC European Tour event in Germany last year, then opened the final leg with two 180s, but Huybrechts clawed back and missed the bull with another match dart, allowing the Yeovil-born thrower back in to take out 60 on tops.
"We've had some battles in the past and this was another great game," said Norris. "You're a bundle of nerves in the final leg but I got there in the end."
Huybrechts said: "It was a close game. Alan let me in a couple of times at the beginning of the game and I did in the end. He's a brilliant played and is doing really well and I think he's got a big chance to win this."
UK Open 2017: Sunday results
Sunday March 5
TV Coverage: ITV 4
Afternoon Session (12.45pm-5pm)
Quarter-Finals (Best of 19 legs)
Kim Huybrechts 9-10 Alan Norris
Ian White 9-10 Gerwyn Price
Simon Whitlock 9-10 Daryl Gurney
Peter Wright 10-8 Raymond van Barneveld
Evening Session (7pm-11pm)
TV Coverage: ITV 4
Semi-Finals (Best of 21 legs)
Gerwyn Price 11-9 Alan Norris
Daryl Gurney 5-11 Peter Wright
Final (Best of 21 legs)
Gerwyn Price 6-11 Peter Wright